Cast: Amanda Brugel, Jonas Chernick. Directed by Jeremy LaLonde.
Ashgrove is a tantalising prospect: an indie film focussing on relationships, which has extra resonance given the current state of the world. Following a change in human biology that has made the human body unable to consume large amounts of water without toxicity setting in, the head scientist developing a cure, Jennifer, suffers a lapse in memory and takes a weekend away with her husband, whereupon their strained relationship becomes apparent.
Director / co-writer Jeremy LaLonde and actor / co-writer Jonas Chernick previously gave us the utterly charming time-travel comedy James vs His Older Self, and here offer another film that deals with versions of people and memory.
The setup may feel like another chance upon the pandemic movie, but the science fiction background aside, what Ashgrove offers is a more quietly affecting look at a relationship under strain.
Chernick and Amanda Brugel are captivating screen actors, both able to hold interest even as the film takes its time to reveal itself. The first half of the film feels like a Mike Leigh film, all domestic moments and awkward conversations between people, while the second half reveals more of the film’s secrets and brings forth context. A scene involving an argument about a ukulele will bring memories to anyone who has ever had an argument about one thing while meaning another.
LaLonde is fond of a downplayed montage, folksy music accompanies actions and the occasional loaded look between people but it never becomes trite, perhaps thanks to his knowledge that holding a scene ten-second longer than you usually would can make people much more uncomfortable than any explosive argument ever would. And the film is plenty uncomfortable, a memory-based game offers some of the hardest to watch moments which LaLonde lingers on with a glee that comes from knowing this is all too relatable.
Not only this but there is a feeling that the film isn’t being entirely honest with you, it’s no surprise that not everything we are told should be taken as gospel but even when the film starts to show its hand you don’t entirely know how far it’s going to go. There’s the air of being in a room with people who have just spoken about you and don’t want you to know. As the weekend goes on Brugel’s at first sympathetic scientist appears to become a lot more sterner as we begin to make assumptions about Chernick.
It’s a lowkey film, offering more Scenes from a Marriage than Outbreak which might put some people off, but this is a slowly affecting film that offers a nuanced and adult look at the way we present ourselves, stress changes people and the weight of the world being on someone can become more crushing than we let on. It’s the sort of film that thrives when people discover it and know nothing about it, but is worth the time it takes to let it infect your core.